Chaotic start as Liberia’s capital goes into a coronavirus lockdown

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Aerial view of streets in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. Flickr/UN Photo
Aerial view of streets in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. Flickr/UN Photo

A coronavirus lockdown in Liberia’s capital Monrovia got off to a chaotic start on Saturday, as some police officers used truncheons against residents who had ventured out into the streets to buy food and withdraw money.

Confusion reigned across much of Monrovia, a city of more than 1 million people, with many having heard, erroneously, via social media that the government had ordered a 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew rather than a full lockdown.

Many residents voiced anger at President George Weah’s order, which they said would do more harm than good in a country where more than half the population lives in poverty.

“Corona is not going to kill many people. It is hunger that will kill many Liberians,” said Jettroy Kolleh, a student, as he stood outside a bank in Monrovia where dozens of people had queued in close proximity to withdraw money.

The three-week lockdown is a test of the Liberian authorities’ vows to improve on their handling of a quarantine of a Monrovia slum during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, which sparked riots by residents lacking food and water.

Roland Weah, the commissioner of the West Point neighbourhood, where police opened fire during the Ebola outbreak to enforce a quarantine, said authorities were working closely with communities to avoid a repeat.

“We have put into place measures to ensure there is not a recurrence of that situation,” he said. “We are working as a community … providing information that corona is here, (applying) all health protocols announced by the ministry of health.”

As the virus’ spread accelerates in Africa, with more than 13,000 cases now reported across the continent, some countries have ordered full lockdowns, while others have imposed curfews or more limited restrictions in an effort to limit the impact on people who live hand to mouth from the informal economy.

Rights activists in several countries have reported instances of brutality by police enforcing lockdowns or curfews.

Liberia has so far confirmed at least 48 cases of the coronavirus, including five deaths.

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